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Surprisingly

When cabin fever hits, some of the most surprising excursions aren’t too far from your own backyard

After Pesach the most common word I heard was “surprisingly.”

“Yom Tov was surprisingly very nice.”

“Surprisingly, we really enjoyed ourselves.”

“Surprisingly, the kids took the spotlight and shined.”

Everyone was surprised.

Should we be surprised? We are the Am Hashem, the Chosen People, and with enormous bitachon and emunah we didn’t just make the best of it — we made it the best. Facing tremendous stress, we reached deep down and learned what’s really important — another daf Gemara, davening with extra kavanah, a quiet meal with a spouse, a short walk with each of our children.

As Shavuos approached and my wife and I faced a second Yom Tov with no children or grandchildren underfoot, no toys strewn about the house, no major shopping and cooking sprees for ten-person seudos, we felt like we needed a break from our house.

We are blessed that my parents own two small houses in Woodridge, in upstate New York near a large yeshivah camp. During the heart of the summer months, the area is teeming with bochurim and families, but before the season starts, there’s no one else around. So we decided to spend Shavuos upstate with my parents. My mother had had enough of being labeled “elderly and vulnerable” (sorry Mom), so they made their way back up north from Florida after a four-month separation from children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Our youngest married couple would join as well. They’d be our first in-home visitors since Purim.

I was very apprehensive. Spending one of the Shalosh Regalim in such an exceedingly isolated setting made me uneasy. No chavrusas, no derashos, no minyanim. No friends. What would Shavuos night look like? Would I feel like I was at Har Sinai? My wife, too, worried it would be just too quiet, too isolated — as if there is such a thing as being overly isolated in these strange times.

And so we apprehensively went up to our little getaway in the woods. It’s a simple little house; the best part is the sweeping wrap-around deck. We joke that the mice are really the permanent residents, and we just visit every summer to spend time on that deck. Since now our little summer home would be the site of a momentous Shavuos, and since flowers and birds were part of the backdrop of Har Sinai, I readied our hummingbird feeder to draw in these amazing creatures that delight us each summer. Mah rabu ma’asecha, Hashem!

And oh, what a (surprisingly) beautiful Yom Tov it was….

 

We planned to host my parents for most of the seudos while adhering to social- distancing regulations, and this took some logistical maneuvering. I took an eight-foot folding table, and added a small table at the top to form a T. We seated my parents at the top of the T, and we sat all the way at the other end — as I like to say, being aparTogether. My wife, tzadeikes that she is, even set down two serving platters of each dish.

In the end, having the zechus of hosting my parents — kibbud av v’eim — on the Yom Tov of kabbalas haLuchos, brought a truly special meaning to the fifth of the Aseres Hadibros. Matan Torah never felt so real. The joy in their eyes, the palpable relief in their demeanor, were a gift from Hashem Himself.

And it didn’t end with the seudos. I got to learn with my father until the wee hours of the morning, living mesorah and the first mishnah of Pirkei Avos, “Moshe kibeil Torah miSinai.”

And in the morning… despite the gloomy weather forecast for the entire two days, Hashem sent us a gift of beautiful weather. We were able to daven outside on the deck, and we were determined to make it feel like a proper shul. We davened together, me, my father, and son-in-law, along with an ezras nashim of my mother, wife, and daughter.

Sometimes I daven from the amud in our shul, but this Shavuos was different from all other Shavuoses (is that a Pesach phrase?). I davened Shacharis as if I were the chazzan in shul. I leined Akdamus the first day — and it was the very first time either my wife or daughter had actually heard Akdamus! — and Megillas Rus the second day, and even sang Yetziv Pisgam at the start of the haftarah. We did the entire kriah, davened Mussaf, and I had a rapt audience the whole time.

Long afternoons of learning and schmoozing, just being within six feet of my family felt so wonderful — like being swaddled in a warm blanket.

My father’s rebbi, Rabbi Eliyahu Pesach Romineck ztz”l, used to tell him, “Don’t say another Yom Tov is gone, say another Yom Tov has been acquired!”

With a most beautiful Shavuos duly acquired, I can now see that my apprehension was unfounded. I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 816)

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